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"Idol" Champ Reveals His "Real" Self

Of the Oakland Press

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“American Idol’s” second champion says it’s time for people to hear “the real Ruben.”

Ruben Studdard, the “Velvet Teddy Bear” who won the talent competition in spring 2003, believes that his third album, “The Return,” which was released in mid-October, is more representative of his cre ative goals than his “Soulful” debut.

“The fi rst album was a souvenir project for the people that watched the show,” says the Alabamaborn Studdard, 28, who also released a gospel album, “I Need an Angel,” in 2004. “But I think this one will really stamp me as a true standalone artist.”

It’s certainly been a struggle, however. Studdard has stalled since “Soulful” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart at the end of 2003 and sold nearly 2 million copies. “I Need an Angel” was a niche release, and while “The Return” did make a Top 10 debut (No. 8), it’s now in the lower reaches of the chart and has sold less than 157,000 copies.

But Studdard claims he’s not panicking.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” he says. “I’m just having fun, man, and looking forward to actually getting a chance to go out and do extensive promotion for this album.

“Y’know, when I was recording (‘Soulful’), I didn’t really get a chance to do that because I was out (on tour) with ‘American Idol.’ So I really want to get a chance to impress fans and just do the regular artist stuff that you don’t get to do when you’re on television.”

In fact, Studdard is confi dent that any fans he can bring to “The Return” will stay once they hear it. He worked again with top-shelf writers and producers, including hitmakers such as the Underdogs, Ne-Yo, Scott Storch and James Poyser. But he also put his own stamp on the project, producing his cover of the Brenda Russell/Luther Vandross hit “If Only for One Night” and co-writing three songs.

“I just wanted people to see the growth in my voice,” Studdard says, “and whatever songs we chose I wanted to make sure they all had very strong vocal performances.”

And while he’s happy he had a composing interest in some of those songs, Studdard says he’ll always “choose the best songs” regardless of who wrote them.

“Honestly, I just want the best music,” he says. “I don’t know how many No. 1 hits Elvis Presley wrote, but he had a million of ’em, y’know?

“People have to understand that it might not be the best choice for you to use your own song. If your song is the best song, that’s cool, but if not, I think the fans deserve a great production. That’s all I can say.”

Ruben Studdard opens for Aretha Franklin at 8 p.m. Thursday (December 21st) at the Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $45-$75. Call (313) 887-8501 or visit www.musichall.org.

Web Site: www.musichall.org

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